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Film and TV

Three decades later, Alaskans will finally get a chance to see 'Spirit of the Wind'

  • Author: Suzanna Caldwell
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 22, 2014

It's taken more than three decades, but finally Alaskans will have a chance to view the mushing epic "Spirit of the Wind."

The semi-autobiographical film about George Attla, the sprint-mushing legend best known as the Huslia Hustler, will soon be available in Interior Alaska for home media use, on Blu-ray and DVD. It may be available for distribution in other parts of the state soon, too.

That's good news for fans of the movie, which was filmed in Alaska in 1978 and recounts the tale of Attla, who overcame adversity as a youth to become one of the most successful sprint dog mushers of all time. He won 10 Fur Rendezvous World Championships, more than any other musher. He won eight North American World Championships and nine International Sled Dog Racing Association unlimited class metals, too.

Attla was among the first class inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. The now 80-year-old Attla still resides in the Interior Alaska village Huslia, teaching young people in the village about dog mushing.

The film, which now would be considered indie due to its limited release, included numerous local actors -- including Attla's sister -- as well as bigger names like Slim Pickens and Chief Dan George, who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in "Little Big Man."

But quietly, those in the mushing community have wondered why "Spirit of the Wind" was not available for home viewing. Despite accolades from the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle when first released in 1979, as well as numerous awards at film festivals -- including a showing at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France -- access to the film has been limited to educational purposes and a one-time DVD release in France in 2003.

The reason for the lack of access is complicated, according to Anchorage attorney Adam Cook with the firm Birch, Horton, Bittner and Cherot, who helped secure the distribution rights for Attla. Much of it was tied up in the movie's financial situation. The movie was made as part of a partnership with two Alaska Native corporations -- Doyon and Gana-A'Yoo, Limited -- and producer and director Ralph Liddle.

The film only had limited availability after its release. It made little money and some debt obligations were never paid off, according to Cook.

Attla, who was entitled to a portion of the film's royalties, said he's never received any money from the film, since it has never been profitable. Now he'll be able to sell at least 3,000 copies of the film in Interior Alaska under the current rights.

Reached Monday in Huslia, Attla is heartened that the film will finally see some distribution in Alaska, though still remained slightly skeptical of the whole deal. While details of the contract stipulate when the DVDs must be delivered, Attla was still cautiously optimistic. After 30 years, it's understandable.

"It's a tough son of a gun," he said.

He hopes to have the DVDs ready to sell at numerous dog races and sporting events around Alaska -- including Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage, the Iditarod Sled Dog Race and the Arctic Winter Games.

Attla also hopes the film will help share the Alaska Native culture it depicts.

"A lot of young people are not aware of how life was 50 years ago," he said. "This film tells it the way it is. Hopefully it should be interesting for a younger generation."

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